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Arpatle – The Day After

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LABEL: PsychonavigationSCORE:  7/10

At its best ambient electronica can offer dazzling examples of just how electronic music has the potential to be both avant-garde and  accessible at the same time. Manipulated synths, slow kicks, weird FX, down-tempo syncopation;  from Aphex Twin to Tim Hecker, the ambient genre has produced some of dance-music most startling and memorable moment in dance music history. Conversely, it is also perhaps the easiest genre to misjudge. There are countless ‘ambient’ records that have been nothing more than unimaginative beatless melodies bound for coffee-shop foyers and endless digital compilations.

 And in the age where production software often costs quite literally nothing and the most uninspired bedroom artist can rattle off a track in a couple of hours, now more than ever  is there a thick malaise of substandard and cliché-ridden down-tempo offerings. That’s not to say there isn’t as much good stuff out there, it’s just difficult to find the gems amidst the vast swathes of mediocrity.    It makes it a difficult job for relatively unknown producers looking to do something new or interesting. Holland’s Arpatle (aka Patrick Bossink) is an apt example. Having studied music technology at Utrecht’s School Of Art, the Dutch producer is about to release his debut album. A nine-track ambient and downtempo affair, The Day After recycles and reworks classic ambient archetypes through Bossink’s aptitude for sound design.    A game of two-halves, the opening five songs of the record shine a spotlight on Bossink’s stronger game. From the prominent chimes and almost Oriental synths of openerSolstitium to the standout Arctic Trip, which engages with heavy pads and cold razor synths, the sound is ambient but simultaneously holds your attention. In tracks such as Hit The Road and Crickets Bossink offers an ingenious approach, using harmony rather than dissonance to create a sense of audible uneasiness. Bringing together disparate sounds and harmonising them, Bossink creates a sound that is up-beat yet menacing at the same time.    And whilst, the first half of the album has most of the album’s standout moments, the second half is no damp squib. Satie’s Birthday conjoins glacial synths and tinkling keys for a slow, haunting number that conjures up Francesco Tristano’s slower work. WhilstHeadache offers the album’s most paranoid outing, its droning synths and unremitting whirring effects filter out against a blizzard of unsettling FX and samples.    Yet, as much as Bossink shows a technical excellence and a great deal of innovation with most of the tracks on The Day After, it never quite reaches the heights that it alludes towards. With a large number of the tracks lasting over six minutes, too many of them keep to the steady (almost predictable) trajectory established early on the songs. In this sense, few risks have been taken, with tracks allowed to pan out, on a few occasions drifting into nebulous monotony. And this is always the risk with ambient music, you’ve either got to have a sound or concept that is so genious it sustains itself (such as Aphex Twin’s early work) or you’ve got to be willing to take risks and deviations within each individual number (such as Four Tet’s beatless outings).    On the whole, Arpatle’s debut is a solid affair. Eschewing clichéd obvious pitfalls, The Day After is a collection of mostly innovative and engaging ambient electronica.  In Patrick Bossink we clearly have a music producer with a wealth of technical finesse and knowledge, and a dazzling creative streak able to make good use of it. Whilst I hope to see a few more risks being taken next time, this is a promising debut from a young producer to watch. 

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